Tublay on our mind

Now, when I think of Tublay I think about coffee, organic food, and loom weaving.

On a recent listening tour to the municipality of Tublay (14 kilometers from Baguio City) in Benguet Province, our team got to visit a weavers association. The first thing we noticed and got excited about was the array of woven products on display at the entrance, but we took a grip of ourselves and did our work first. that is, to talk and listen to the weavers, women all of them. We each bought the same color of blanket – bright blue. When we go back to each of our homes (and countries), we’ll each be connected via this blanket or should I say story of the bright blue blanket.

A weaver from Tublay Weavers Association Inc. Their products are bought by Narda’s among others.

We also visited the municipal government’s coffee processing plant. The agriculture officer himself gave us a tour of the place. Before that, he served us their homegrown Tublay Arabica brew, not one but two flavorful cuppas! The day before, in the villages, we each drank a total of six cups of the strong local brew. We couldn’t say no because our insistent hosts served us. During our last stop, in the evening, temperature had suddenly dropped and we welcomed the offer.

The journey, it turns out, of the coffee bean until it gets into your cup is quite a complicated and lengthy process. I now drink my brew with much more thought and appreciation of the people and communities involved in the process.

Tublay Arabica beans ready for packing. There is a plan to redesign the package in order to be more attractive to consumers.

And, we had to eat, of course. Our hosts pointed us to Reign Forest Cafe conveniently on the way to the other community we visited next. We all thought it was rainforest as in we’d be in the middle of one somewhere. Turned out, it’s Reign Forest and it’s on the floor above a farm-automotive-grocery shop. But, it’s zen indigenous interiors and food are absolutely amazing (they maintain an organic vegetable garden from where they source their daily ingredients). Our first day there we had the place all to ourselves. I and my four companions picked a big bowl of mixed organic vegetables and pork tapa (the soup made extra flavorful from the smoked tapa) and red rice. The salad choices are wonderful. For dessert, one from our security detail got a plate of camote that came with a creamy vanilla dip (it was past noon when we ate and she and her colleague had their lunch back at their office) which all four of us ended up devouring! Altogether, it was an amazingly healthy fete!

Lunch fare at Reign Forest and Cafe in Tublay: mixed organic vegetables (spinach) and (smoked) pork tapa and red rice

In any case, there”s the mayor, young and a tourist spot himself (as we were saying). My Filipino companions told him about the novelty of carrot man and the mayor responded in jest, “ah, yes. But here there’s Arman.”


The real chili sauce

Tried this artisan pinutos sa kanto. A teeny drop is all it takes. Truly “extra hot spicy”! ” So where’d the chilies come from?” I asked the guy at the counter. He just grinned. I imagined they’re picked from the native chili tree that’s maybe by the gate, growin’ wild and bloomin’ free and unnoticed. Until somebody got a bright idea.

pinutos sa kanto chili sauce

Made in Basilan

It’s not all fighting in this island. I learned that the Moro, though not so the younger generation, love coffee which Bisaya people here find strange as they’re not coffee drinkers. Or, should I say coffee is a staple for these natives- not the instant kind but the real brew. A typical family stores the drink in a flask or thermos to keep it hot throughout the day. They like it strong and sweet. Reminds me of Moroccan coffee.

coffee #madeinBasilan

Native delicacies: dodol

Dodol is a toffee-like delicacy made of rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar. The ones I saw hanging from a road-side store while on a stop-over on my way to Cotabato City were wrapped in corn husks. The sweet treat is purportedly found all over Southeast Asia, but it was my first to see and taste one then. It was Ramadan at the time.


Cooking lessons: stir-fried noodles

Home cooking skills have been all but killed by a number of sociological changes that have taken place since the 1950s. First there was the emergence of the self-service supermarket and with it prepared recipe meals such as tinned baked beans with sausages. The home workload for the housewife was lightening, and she was increasingly going out to work.

The Nation That Can’t Boil An Egg, Rose Prince, The Independent

Sat down to this for dinner, the best for when you’re eating solo. I’ve been discovering, out of necessity, the truth in “the more you cook, the better you cook, the more you cook.” It’s going to be my personal “project” for the rest of the year.

stir-fried noodles


Who would’ve thought pizza and martial law could co-exist? Weirdly, in this ML, it does. It was one of those insanely hot days (I joked that the unforgiving hot weather is the reason I feel homesick). On such days, I don’t have the energy to cook. It’s too much physical work (that’s what heat does). With a book inside my bag, I went out instead to this place located further off on the highway. I ordered Pacific Love (meat and spam) pizza after the staff gave me a rundown of what’s in their Hawaiian-named pizzas. It was a late lunch, 1:30PM. There’s air-conditioning inside but I stayed outdoors where there was a strong cool breeze. I chose a corner and did my thing: people watch. There weren’t many people to see though as the place is a little out of the way still I could see the highway. Regardless, the ritual – restaging of something familiar – helps me adjust, to feel safe, to feel at home in my new community. I ate four slices and had the rest packed (for dinner!). I ordered my second mug of Americano and stayed until 3:30PM. I had a few things to do on my errand list before it got dark (by 6PM these days).


In a previous article, I mentioned about an ongoing experiment to identify the reason for my allergy to seafood. I wrote that my “seafood allergy” might actually be allergy to preservatives applied at various stages in the supply chain. Recently, I learned something more- that it might also be from ingesting contaminated seafood, or seafood contaminated with various diatoms (which tell about the quality of sea or marine water the seafood came from), viz.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning is caused by saxitoxins, a complex of neurotoxins produced by dinoflagellates which are assimilated and temporarily stored by bivalve mollusks such as mussels, clams and oysters.

Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning is caused by K. Brevis blooms also known as “red tides”.

Amnesic shellfish poisoning is caused by the phytoplanktonic diatom Pseudo-nitzchia multiseries which are the source of the toxic agent identified as domoic acid. This potent neurotoxin accumulates in mussels and clams that feed on toxic plankton during their bloom.

Diarrhetic shellfish poisoning is caused from ingesting mussels, scallops, clams and oysters contaminated with biotoxins produced by toxic marine dinoflagellates during their blooms in summer.

Azaspiracids shellfish poisoning is caused by azaspiracids, polyether marine toxins that accumulate in various shellfish species.

The fact that I’m not having any allergic reaction to the seafood here implies the marine waters here are relatively toxin- or diatom-free. Wow. I have to tell communities here this, just so to motivate them to not tire in maintaining their coasts and seas.

Literature review: Chee K Woo and Sami L Bahna, Not all shellfish “allergy” is allergy! 10 June 2011Clinical and Translational Allergy Journal, European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

What’s your ‘treat yourself’ wine?

tuba or coconut wine
Tuba (4-hour fermented coco wine). It’s brown-ish color is natural dye from the mangrove tree.

My host organization said I should join them in their team-building event, to take a break even if for a day from an incredible month of hyperactivity not to mention, of late, anxiety. They have done an extraordinary job of facilitating my work so far as well as my security in the areas. Of the latter, I know they’re trying to hold in their worries and desire to guard over me 24/7. As for myself, apart from dealing with work pressure, I’ve lately been bombarded with new experiences almost on a daily basis that there’s no time for me to reflect and understand how they benefit my own life. Also, out there in the areas, there’s such a wealth of information and lessons that it’s made it extraordinarily challenging for me to sift through and obtain what’s just needed for the work I’m doing. Then, the usual pressure from family and friends- wtf are you still there for? When they say that…I start to have doubts- yeah, how the hell did I end up here? which I don’t like. Sometimes when I’m in this mood I imagine I’m in one of my favorite places to be…only that I’m fully clothed you know in case my folks decided to forcibly fly in through the roof and get me by the ears, clothed or not. Is why bombs are loathed- they’re like our parents in hyperwar mode.


But seriously by joining my host organization in their activity I wanted to convey my appreciation and gratitude. They’re my second family here, and since my entry into their lives their days have become uncharacteristically hectic. I so owe them some slack.

The event took place by the wonderful sea, in an open community training center maintained by their partner-organization. When we arrived, the distinct smell of goat meat (it’s halal) wafted in the air. We were told there’ll be papaitan and kaldereta on the table- yum! This reminded me of similar gatherings in my areas of assignment when I was younger, also the reunions at my grandparents’ during my childhood. The men did most of the cooking.

I’m already acquainted with the individuals there so I went around and joined in the conversation. Crowds is really a struggle for me although I can put a handle on this when it becomes a duty ie. work requires me to work the crowd. I could do it so well that people think I’m a go-getter. Ha! Besides, when you’re with village people, they scrutinize you with beetle eyes- they will right away pack off snobs or outsiders with no sense of humor. Once, I woke up in a depleted mood and no amount of self pep talk could elevate my mood. This showed through when I was facilitating a discussion with village women. Their faces reflected my mood. But I didn’t care. Then somebody said “no sense of humor” in reply to my question of what makes an effective volunteer. The body language of the other women screamed, oh my goodness. They were all looking at me like how children stare up at their parents when they knew they’ve crossed a no-no line, waiting for a punishment to come or not. The mental image tickled me and I laughed. The women’s bodies eased up a bit. Sense of humor is key to working well with villagers.

Then I moved into the hut where the men were cooking. Somebody asked if I wanted tuba. I said, yes sure. He handed me a cupful. And, it was unbelievably delicious- just the right sweetness and fermentation. The coconut juice had been collected very early that morning and fermented a few hours (it gets stronger the longer it’s fermented however 2-3 days would turn the juice to vinegar). Plus, I was told the container had been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, which explained why it tasted clean. I had two cups (which kind of alarmed them but I assured them that I have a high tolerance for alcohol). Then while watching them do their thing, we talked about local wines and drinks. This scene reminds me of my childhood during reunions, when I was usually with the men – my uncles and their cousins – watching whatever they were doing and listening to their talk. I have a few photos of those times (come to think of it, I haven’t asked who took the shots). So, growing up, I don’t know but I naturally gravitate toward the company of male friends and acquaintances. Their kind of talk is what I’m familiar with. But also because I find I can be my naturally straightforward self with them and nobody would take overt offense. Ha ha!

tuba and freshly caught prawns

We also had prawns, freshly caught and (for me) unbelievably cheap at just 150 a kilo! About seafood, all my life I’ve reacted after digesting it or at times even from merely touching it hence avoided it. But my host organization upon learning this were horrified. The areas teemed with seafood. So we experimented (anyway, I brought my meds). First, pusit small and large ones. And what do you know- no reaction at all not even a hint of an itch. I thought about it. Then it dawned on me. Could it be the preservatives (applied along the supply chain as it makes it’s way to, for instance, Baguio City) and not the seafood? I told my host organization this which excited them some more about our experiment. Next, crabs. I had no reaction after the first. Wow! So I ate another one. Nada. Then, the prawns. No reaction. Amazing! I really am sure now my allergic reactions were due to preservatives. Goodness, how much nutrients did I lose from avoiding seafood?

How did the team-building go? It turned out that was just a bluff. The event was actually a “formal” welcome to me. Soon as the dishes were cooked and laid out, one of the organization’s staff called everyone inside the center, and after the usual how are you all feeling today? talk she then announced the real reason for the gathering. Ha! You thought I was a birthday girl, too stunned at first to react. But, really, it was such a gift.